A little over a year ago I began to consider returning to seminary. I had figured out that moving forward in my current career would require me becoming a person I wasn't willing to become. Before that point I assumed that if I was ever going to do vocational ministry it would come from stumbling into it in nontraditional ways. When I realized that wasn't going to happen, I decided to heed the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit that came from passing comments of several close friends. Returning to Truett felt right, if a little scary. I was well past the point of asking my parents for financial help, so I spent the past year working and going to shcool full time.
Punching in and out of work, studying for Greek, writing papers, all while balancing a new set of friends with my Waco friends has been equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. It ended for the summer with my final class on Monday. Yesterday me and some of my new friends took a "Daycation" down to south-central Texas. The biggest chunk of the day was spent floating in tubes down the Guadalupe River. This is the week when some Texas universities are in final exams and some have just finished, so there was a decent smattering of people in the water, but not enough to make it miserable. The weather was perfect and the sun shining.
On the water I was in and out of brief moments of sleep. Occasionally I would wake up near a cluster of frat guys engaging in some of the most vulgar talk I've ever witnessed. I found it quite amusing. I'll spare you the specific language used, but it involved names of girls the guys had been with as freshman and how they wish they could be with them again after four years of practice.
Another conversation ending in this sentence-- "I can't stand that chick. She not only divided our pledge class, but the entire fraternity as well!"
It was everything I could not to snicker. Instead I paddled away into less crowded territory.
I woke up again startled. There was no one near me. I looked up disoriented because I couldn't figure out where I was. I asked my friends if I was ahead of them or if they were ahead of me. It was the latter, so I paddled with my arms some more.
Several times I woke up in still water and decided not to work my way out.
There were rapids over low rocks. This was a pain because it required a decision-- Do I stand up and walk over the rocks (a prospect that was sure to cause humorous stumbling both because of the uneven surfaces and the decent amount of beer in my system at the time,) do I struggle with my arms and feet to push myself out, or do I just sit there like the beached whale I felt like at the time, hoping a swift enough current would pull me where I needed to be. I honestly couldn't tell you which one I chose, but I guess it was a hybrid of all three because I eventually found my way out.
Toward the end of the three hour adventure, Jake and I were the only ones left in the water. Chris and Josh were about fifty yards ahead of us, at the end. I tried to make the experience last. Closing my eyes I thought back through the past year. I've made new friends, learned new things, and in small ways become a new person. Yet I'm still essentially me, with the same hang-ups, virtues, vices, and general trajectory of life.
Opening my eyes to the fractured sunbeams coming through the tall cypress trees, I realized why the river has been such a powerful tool used by poets and novelists alike-- It contains everything and, in some strange way, goes to everything. I considered how the last three hours was what it is like to follow God in the way of Christ. It all begins by simply being in the water and ends on that distant shore. In between, though, is the stuff of life. Much of the trip requires hard paddling that will make your arms sore the next day. There are rocks that come along that require a little creativity, decision making, and luck. Discerning God's will for your life sometimes requires you to be shot in directions you don't want to be shot in. Other times, however, you have to be willing to be stuck for what can seem like an eternity. This is what is hard for many people.
Today I bear the scars of the rocks, the soreness from the paddling, and the color from the sun. But mostly I bear the smiles that come from the people in my life willing to float alongside me, and the God of the great river that is taking me home.